Does baby powder increase cancer risk?

February 22, 2017 | by Maria Quejada, M.D.

Baby powder is one of the most commonly used household products among families. Recently, concern has been raised that a product in some powders, called talcum powder, may cause cancer.

Talcum powder, made from talc, is a mineral made up of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. Even though it is a naturally occurring mineral, some talc contains asbestos, while other talc is asbestos-free. 

Inhaling the talc-containing asbestos in its natural form has been linked to cancers in and around the lungs. This research has centered on individuals who have had long-term exposure to breathing in natural talc fibers at work, such as talc miners and millers. 

Now, concern has shifted to talc in consumer products like baby powder. Although the use of cosmetic talcum powder has not been shown to increase lung cancer risk, there are concerns about the risk of ovarian cancer for women who apply talcum powder regularly to the genital area.

Some studies have shown that even asbestos-free talc may raise the risk of developing ovarian tumors, which has resulted in thousands of lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson over the company’s baby powder products.

While there may be a link between baby powder and ovarian cancer, more research is needed to understand the relationship between talcum and cancer. So far, findings have been mixed, with some studies reporting a slightly increased risk of cancer and others reporting no increased cancer risk. The American Cancer Society says if there is an increased risk, it is likely to be very small. 

What is known is that particles of talcum powder have been discovered in tumors removed from the ovaries and nearby areas of the body, indicating that the particles could have played a role in the development of cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies the use of talc-based body powder on the genitals as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” 

Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend using baby powder on babies― not because of the potential link between powder and cancer, but because of breathing problems that can result from babies inhaling it.

If you are concerned about using baby powder with talcum, consider using talc-free, organic baby powder made from cornstarch or arrowroot. 
As always, visit your doctor yearly for a regular health exam. See your doctor if you have abdominal swelling or bloating, pressure or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly and/or symptoms of a urinary infection. 

What every woman should learn about ovarian cancer.


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